In Our Schools: Staten Island's Smiles Around Us Academy standing strong after Sandy (with photos)
Date: 03/24/2014 22:22
STATEN ISLAND -- Smiles Around Us Academy, an elementary school in South Beach, is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, but the school community is also celebrating its resilience with its theme of "Standing Strong After Sandy."
The private school at 351 Sand Lane, a block from Capodanno Boulevard, was partially destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. The school's basement was flooded with more than eight feet of water, and part of the first floor was also damaged.
"We were half underwater. We lost classrooms, the gymnasium, the kitchen and cafeteria, and our play area," explained Alexandra Slonim, principal.
The school was closed for several weeks for cleanup, and gradually reopened while areas were gutted and renovations took place.
"We rebuilt and now we are back full-force, and we're very proud of how far we've come," Ms. Slonim said.
The school serves as an anchor to the commercial strip along lower Sand Lane, that also sustained heavy damage from Sandy. Many of the school families from around the neighborhood also sustained damage to their homes and belongings, she noted.
"We wanted to get back on our feet as soon as possible, to provide a welcoming environment for our students and families."
Students, parents, faculty and staff celebrated the school's anniversary with a luncheon at Crown Palace restaurant in New Dorp. Younger students entertained with songs and poems, while older students showed off their artwork.
All of the students seemed happy to be back in their school and to celebrate their school's future.
"My memories of Hurricane Sandy are pretty bad," said fifth-grader Michael Greenberg. "The school cafeteria was completely submerged in water. I thought we would never recover. Still, my school fought and is now fully functional," he said.
His classmate, Sasha Bykhovski, said the school provided a safe haven after the storm.
"I remember during Hurricane Sandy we had 10 feet of water, my mom was pregnant, and it was really hard for us. I was glad to see my friends and my teachers."
"I have a lot of friends here, who support me in every possible way," said sixth-grader Nicole Lindvor.
Several students said they look forward to coming to school because of their teachers, who make it fun for them.
"I love my school because every teacher knows every student by name. The teachers are very loving and caring," declared Gary Maimon, a sixth-grader.
"What makes our school special are our teachers," said fifth-grader Daniel Illinsky.
"Our teachers are the nicest and the most educated people I know. They really care about all of us. We have lots of fun activities and educational trips," agreed Rebecca Karayev, a fourth-grader.
Smiles Around Us Academy, where tuition is $850 a month, has a multicultural enrollment of about 200 students from throughout the Island, who range in age from two-year-old toddlers, through sixth-grade. The school hopes to add a seventh and eighth-grade class over the next two years.
According to Ms. Slonim the curriculum emphasizes language arts, math and science, but also offers music classes, including piano instruction, and dance, as well as foreign-language classes in Russian and Spanish.
About 70 percent of the students are also enrolled in the extended-day program, which runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and includes homework help and enrichment classes, along with breakfast, hot lunch and dinner.
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